Nairobi, 28 May 2009
• Your Excellency Mwai Kibaki, the President of the Republic of Kenya;
• Excellency Hon. Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, Vice President of the Republic of Kenya;
• Honourable Kenneth Marende, Speaker of the National Assembly
• Kenyan leaders from government, business and civil society;
• International guests;
• Ladies and Gentlemen;
• Brothers and Sisters:
I am most honored and privileged to participate in the 7th National Prayer Breakfast – and thank you very much Your Excellency President Kibaki for your kind invitation to this important occasion.
Special thanks goes to Hon Gideon Ndambuki and his colleagues in the National Prayer Breakfast Committee and the Kenyan National Assembly, for asking me to join you for this important annual event whose main objective is to draw from the rich reserves of your faith to inspire and guide efforts to unite the Kenyan nation.
It is my great pleasure to share some of our own experiences of nation building in Rwanda this morning.
Distinguished Friends and Colleagues
Let me begin by observing that the foundation for any successful nation is a deep-rooted sense of national belonging, organically grounded in a sovereign state in which all citizens, in their diversity, enjoy and exercise their cultural, social, economic, religious and political rights.
This is what is broadly termed as “citizenship”.
Citizenship, in other words, is the key feature in determining whether or not individual and collective “belonging” is sufficiently fostered to ensure maximum cohesion of any nation – which ultimately embeds the national identity.
In the case of our country, Rwanda, we experienced the reverse in much of our colonial and post-colonial history: there was denial of citizenship.
Rwandan politics became essentially about ethnic entitlement and exclusion – the key ideologies and practices that reduced our country to perpetual instability, conflict and much worse: the recurring physical elimination of a section of the Rwandan people through genocide.
In addition, our country became infamous for exiling hundreds of thousands into Great Lake region, including Kenya and beyond.
In this respect, the history of Rwanda is similar to many societies that have struggled to create stable nations and provide what is expected of any sovereign state – an enabling environment in which citizens raise families, build healthy communities, and generally engage in productive activities.
Meeting the challenge of creating stable nations is important because we must never forget that we live in an unstable global environment where what happens in one region affects others.
It is estimated for example that there are currently at least a billion people living in countries whose status range from “failing” to “failed.”
In other words, one out of every six people in the world lives in a precarious nation that may degenerate into chaos and hopelessness.
This was the legacy of Rwanda.
As you may recall, our country lay in ruin in 1994, having finally succumbed to decades of divisive politics, conflict and impunity.
As I will shortly illustrate, our purpose in the last fifteen years has been to create and strengthen a political, social and economic fabric that would bring Rwandans together as one people to build a reconciled, democratic and prosperous nation.
If there are any “lessons” from the Rwandan experience, they may revolve around two main critical issues.
First, our hard-earned accomplishments in nation-building begun in circumstances that no other society should ever endure: including the loss of over a million Rwandans; close to five million others internally and externally displaced; a traumatized and divided population; and collapsed social and economic infrastructure in the context of an essentially indifferent world community.
We learnt the hard way what other countries should never experience: When a country allows itself to fail, it has no friend.
Second, the outcome of any conflict is never pre-determined from the outset.
For those societies that exhibit features of real or latent conflict, the single most decisive and pressing task facing them, and their leaders in particular, is to confront the root cause of instability before degenerating into conflicts or even wars.
It cannot be otherwise – because real solutions cannot come from anywhere else but from within.
It is only the leaders and citizens of such nations that can fully grasp the high stakes involved – and as such, only they possess the power and tools to arrest the disintegration of their nations.
Above all, only they have the home-grown knowledge and insights from which to draw and apply sustainable solutions.
When domestic stakeholders fail to undertake this vital mission and responsibility, the situation becomes inviting for external actors of all kinds to step in and fill the vacuum – many times not providing the right solutions – tantamount to a leadership surrendering its sovereignty to address national challenges.
This only compounds the difficulties because, as just noted, sustainable political solutions can only derive from domestic discourse and engagement.
Until 1994, Rwanda confirmed the perspective that a failed state is indeed a result of failed leadership – here was a group of people entrusted with governing a nation that chose instead to dismember its most valuable assets: its citizenry.
The ‘solutions’ this leadership sought were not to build but to destroy;
The prosperity they yearned for was self-aggrandizement – not the improvement of Rwandan lives;
The institutions this kind of leadership considered important were essentially about self-preservation and control rather than serving their countrymen and women.
This was the background and context from which we have been building our country since 1994 – quite literally from its foundations – a subject that I now turn to.
Just as a failed state is essentially a reflection of a failed leadership as earlier stated – similarly, it takes a different type of leadership to build a nation.
Our first task after genocide was therefore to put into practice a new vision of leadership – one that would be equipped with vital features to build a fundamentally different Rwanda.
We have been guided by three main principles in this endeavour: firstly, acceptance of and building on our diversity that should no longer be seen as a threat but a powerful basis for mobilising and uniting our citizens; secondly, consensus-building on what constitutes our common good and national interest; and thirdly, power-sharing in a participatory environment whereby the winner does not take all, but rather fosters the inclusion of all political expressions in national debate and execution of our country’s development agenda.
Two distinctive periods enabled us to put these features into practice, namely the phase of the Government of National Unity from 1994 to 2003, and from then to present, when our new Constitution became the cornerstone for the new Rwanda.
What our history unmistakably illustrated was that any form of discrimination or division– whether based on class, ethnicity, region, religion, or gender is destructive and therefore had no place in the new Rwanda we were trying to build, and that indeed, embracing inclusiveness unreservedly was to be the soul and symbol of the new stewardship of our country.
The new politics of Rwanda had therefore to be based on harnessing the diversity of our people, all of whom had to be active participants in our socioeconomic and political processes, beginning with the nature and composition of our leadership in the Government of the National Unity.
This explains why, for instance, we in the Rwandan Patriotic Front who led the effort of removing the genocidal regime could not have contemplated forming government alone.
There were no victors in this episode of our history – all Rwandans had to be brought into the reconstruction process, including those who had been misled to be part of the old order.
The leadership of the Government of National Unity had therefore to be drawn from all political parties in Rwanda to harness their various views.
What one may term “imperial” leadership no longer had a place in our politics – exclusive and self-seeking leadership was rejected as we set the course for the future of our country.
The Government of National Unity also allowed us to put into practice a related and equally important practice – that of power-sharing.
We had observed during our struggle that successful nations have mechanisms of rendering national consensus more robust, and that effective consensus building, almost without exception incorporates all, including the opposition.
In other words, opposition does not necessarily mean enemy and hostile camps within a nation but varied perspectives and insights for forging a common purpose and future.
In our own case, our history had amply demonstrated that monopoly of power not only undermined our country’s social cohesion, it led to the exclusion of sections of the Rwandan community, conflict, instability – and ultimately to genocide.
This was the time for Rwandans to be consulted, to be heard, no matter how time-consuming and emotionally exhausting the process could be – building our country demanded this.
Distinguished Colleagues; Guests and Friends
The three concepts – diversity, consensus, and power sharing – became enshrined in the 2003 Constitution, which was informed by lessons learnt from the Government of National Unity, and the extensive national grassroots as well as international consultations during its drafting phase – an exercise that took over three years.
As result of this vital constitution-making exercise, no single party in Rwanda may dominate the political process; for example, the party that wins the Presidency cannot at the same time nominate the Speaker of Parliament.
Even in the Council of Ministers, the Head of State may nominate only fifty percent of his cabinet from his own party – other Ministers should come from other parties and independents.
Our constitutional requirement that women’s participation in national institutions should not fall below thirty percent has seen a dramatic increase in their role in governance – including in Parliament where women now account for fifty six percent.
As explained earlier – our purpose here is to foster a leadership and nation that see diversity as an asset, consensus as a means of building a shared future by all Rwandans, and power-sharing as an insurance for broader inclusion, social cohesiveness, and development.
Above all, these beliefs and practices – we are convinced – give us a basis for a building and consolidating leadership in our country whose primary objective is to listen to and serve Rwandans.
We have no doubt that our peace and stability dividends that are now allowing Rwandans to pursue productive lives – a feature that successful societies take for granted – is a direct result of this approach.
We have done what is humanly possible both within our borders and in the region to restore this fundamental right to our citizens.
The fact that citizenship is no longer something the state and leadership can ever deny any Rwandan is part of the legacy of the last fifteen years – so are our modest accomplishments in building trust and social bonds among our people that were destroyed during the colonial and post-independence periods.
Institutions to promote unity and reconciliation established in the period of the Government of National Unity continue to engage every community at the grassroots level; again rejecting the notion that an authority standing above and separate from society can sustainably unite and reconcile people.
Choosing an inclusive approach also enabled us to address the extraordinary challenge of delivering justice after 1994.
In this respect, there were no textbooks or case studies to draw lessons from – where justice and reconciliation had to be simultaneously rendered so that the former does not undermine the latter, in an exercise involving millions of people.
We had to revisit our own history for innovative solutions –some of us here may be familiar with the Gacaca court system based on our centuries-old traditions of settling judicial conflicts by community leaders whereby retribution is rendered via community services.
Finally there is the issue of restoring dignity to Rwandan people, which I would emphasize, has been central to our work, by reversing the lost sense of stewardship by former leaders who instead of transforming society, set community against community.
We must mobilise our society so that together we become masters of our own destiny – based on resilience, hard work, trade, industry and the powers of science and modern technology as well as innovation.
We continue to build and transform our economy – and with our East African sisters and brothers, we should spare no effort in realising our vision of a highly productive region that ensures greater prosperity for all our people.
I say this not to deny the challenges of transforming poor countries such as ours – indeed we have a long way to go in creating prosperity that is commensurate to what is needed to uplift our people.
But we do not agree with the notion that Rwanda and Africa are somehow destined to remain economically backward extensions of world markets to be sustained by charity and aid – like other societies, we can develop and achieve a bright future.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
We are gathered here this morning to seek guidance and strength from God, our Creator, as we lead our respective Nations to greater peace and prosperity.
Allow me to conclude my remarks by citing one of the most remarkable prayers ever made by a leader, extraordinary indeed to the extent that it even astonished God the Almighty who had prompted it.
This is the prayer by King Solomon found in the first Chapter of the Book of Second Chronicles.
In verse 7 we read that God appeared to Solomon and said to him “Ask for whatever you want me to give to you”.
And in verse 10 Solomon answers saying “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
Then God said to Solomon in verse 11 and 12: “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honour, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you King, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given to you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honour, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.”
I must say here that the people of Kenya are a great people and this is a great nation of God. You cannot afford to fail.
The history of my own country leaves no doubt that where there are no concerted efforts on the part of leadership to seek wisdom and knowledge, they inevitably direct their nations onto a course of self-destruction and failure.
Let us pray like Solomon for divine wisdom to make our countries, our region, our continent and the world a better place to live.
Let us pray for wisdom to be instruments of peace, unity, reconciliation, and prosperity for our nations, our region, our Continent and the whole world.
MAY GOD BLESS US ALL AND USE US TO BECOME A CHANNEL OF BLESSINGS TO OUR RESPECTIVE NATIONS AND THE WHOLE OF HUMANITY.
I THANK YOU.